A week ago the Redskins rushed for 230 yards against a strong Eagles defense. Matt Jones led the way, gaining 135 yards including 57 on a game-clinching long run in the last minutes of the game.
Now fast forward to today and there is widespread clamoring for Jones to be benched, perhaps permanently. Having a hand in three fumbles, two of which were lost, will do that.
The first one, for some reason, was charged to Kirk Cousins, although it appeared to be a clean handoff. Jones lost the handle but he recovered it. No harm in that play but it foreshadowed problems to come.
Later on in the first quarter the damage started. On a first and goal play from the seven Jones was fighting for extra yardage inside the five when the ball popped out and rolled into the end zone. The Lions recovered, costing the Redskins at least three and possibly seven points.
Protecting the ball when fighting for yardage is running back 101. Jones needs to retake that course.
The other fumble, in the third quarter with the Redskins driving in Lions territory, was rightfully charged to Cousins. He tripped on the foot of center Spencer Long and tried to get the handoff to Jones anyway. But the missed connections and the Lions recovered the loose ball.
You can’t can put too much of the blame on Jones, but there are plenty of running backs out there who would have reacted to the situation better and would have made an adjustment.
Jones also lost a fumble against the Ravens two weeks ago. After doing a good job of holding onto the ball all during training camp, the preseason, and the start of the regular season, an old problem (Jones lost four fumbles last year) is rearing its ugly head.
So there’s the problem. What’s the solution?
After the final turnover, Jones had just one carry. That may have been at least in part because by the time they got the ball back they were down 13-3 I the fourth quarter. But you have to think that the ball security problems had a lot to do with it.
The rest of the game was mostly the Chris Thompson show with a little bit of Robert Kelley mixed in. For the game Thompson led the team in rushing with 12 carries for 73 yards and threw in seven receptions for 40 yards. Kelley ran four times for 15 yards and he got his first career touchdown on his first career reception.
It worked, in that the Redskins had a four-point lead with 1:05 to go. It’s wasn’t enough but they put up 417 yards and got 26 first downs.
The problem is, having Thompson as your leading rusher is not sustainable. At 5-8, 195 he is not likely to be able to take the pounding if the team needs someone to carry the ball 20 times or so in consecutive games.
Maybe Kelley is the way to go. He’s 6-0, 228, better built to take the punishment. I don’t think the coaches are at the point yet where they fully trust him to handle all aspects of the job for 40+ snaps. But it’s hard to trust Jones at any point of the game right now.
It could unfold something like this: Jones sees very limited action against the Bengals and Thompson and Kelly share the load with about 10-12 carries each. Jones gets back to basics on ball handling (I haven’t seen the ball that beeps when it’s not gripped properly out a practice for a while) and eventually he gets another shot at being the prime running back.
Let’s remember that Jones has a 4.6-yard average per carry this year. That’s not great but it’s pretty good. He has some talent and he’s a worthwhile reclamation project. But I do think he needs a while to ponder the work he has to do.